Dirty Dancing On Stage at Grand Opera House York

onstage of johnny and baby in partner work dance pose
Image Credits: Alistair Muir

Expectations: 3/5

Reality: 2/5

Chronic illness-friendly: 2/5

I’ve had such a good run with musicals this year that I was long overdue a not-so-spectacular one. I had really high hopes for Dirty Dancing, having purposefully avoided watching the movie so that I could see it on stage first. And, whilst it did have its moments, I have to say that we did leave the theatre feeling rather underwhelmed.

Set in the summer of 1963, protagonist Baby embarks on a family holiday as the innocent youngest daughter and leaves as an enlightened woman who’s learned a thing or two about romance… namely due to the presence of hunky dance instructor Johnny. The Dirty Dancing film is considered iconic and holds sentimental value for so many people, but how did it measure up on stage?

For me… not so brilliantly. I was completely taken aback at how amateur and unfeeling the production seemed: everything seemed so over-rehearsed and manipulated to the point where it was difficult to immerse yourself in the story. The pacing felt very unnatural, particularly the pauses between lines which were too short to be meaningful yet long enough to feel awkward. A lot of the more emotive elements of the show felt too artificial to have an impact, and there never came a moment where I felt connected to what was happening on stage. Transitions between scenes felt clumsy and inconsistent, and during the second half in particular, a lot of the show content felt so unnecessary… almost as if they were simply trying to fill up the time before the curtain fell.

I felt that the show lacked creativity in many ways, however there WERE stronger moments of light relief: namely, the swimming pool scene where Johnny and Baby are practicing their iconic lift. The set and sound design interacted well with the staging and choreography to create a humorous and light-hearted moment that resonated well with the audience. This was one of the highlights of the performance from me, and really demonstrated how key aspects of the film could be communicated effectively on stage.

onstage photo of full cast hitting dance poses
Image credits: Alistair Muir

The overall set design by Roberto Comotti was successful in enhancing the story and setting the scene, despite some technical issues on the night which were handled efficiently and professionally, if somewhat humorously, by the backstage team. The costuming by Sabrina Cuniberto was tasteful and in fitting with the era, and the onstage band was an enjoyable addition to the action.

As for the cast, I do feel that many talented individuals were just not allowed to shine to their fullest potential due to how the show was produced, so I’ve tried to account for that in this review. I did particularly enjoy Kira Malou’s performance as Baby, and felt that she really captured how her character changed and matured throughout the story. Colin Charles also gave a notable performance as Tito Suarez, and I believe the role of Penny Johnson was covered by Millie Hood, who gave a strong and insightful portrayal of her character.

The ensemble were the real stars of the show for me: I always love a performance where the dance element isn’t an afterthought, and having an ensemble of such talented dancers meant that my eyes were on them whenever they took to the stage. I did find the choreography to be a little repetitive, meaning that some of the lifts and tricks lost their wow-factor after a couple of times of seeing them, but I did appreciate the level of difficulty in some of the routines and partner work. Every step was executed beautifully by the dancers: I only wish they would have had more opportunity to shine during the show.

hand holding up pink dirty dancing programme in front of stage

Whilst I was undeniably disappointed with Dirty Dancing, I’m glad to say that the finale somewhat helped the performance to redeem itself. Johnny and Baby pulled off their stunning dance routine complete with that exhilarating lift, and the cast came together in an engaging and uplifting finale that allowed the show to end on a high.

I wouldn’t personally recommend this production or see it again, however it was clear that other members of the audience, likely those who had a more emotive connection to the movie, enjoyed and appreciated seeing it on stage. Therefore, if you do happen to be a fan of the movie, perhaps this could still be one for you. To find out more and book yourself some tickets, just head to the Dirty Dancing website.

And in the meantime, please don’t try that lift at home. As my best pal Izzy and I discovered the hard way, it’s probably best to leave it to the professionals…

Chronic illness-friendly review

Eesh. As soon as the curtains rose and the intense strobe lighting began, I knew this was going to be an uncomfortable one for me. As well as strobes being heavily utilised at various points in the performance, there are also coloured, rotating and flashing light effects. I found myself frequently having to shut my eyes and miss things, and I noticed that other members of the audience were shielding their eyes at various points too… so please take caution if you too are sensitive to lighting.

The production also features harsh sound effects, including the sounds of metal dropping on the floor towards the beginning of the show: one of those uncomfortable noises that goes right through your body and makes everything ache. I’d also be aware that most of the musical accompaniment features a heavy bass-line that also felt debilitating at times.

onstage image of baby and johnny in kneeling pose, with knees together and leaning backwards
Image Credits: Alistair Muir

You can find access information for York Grand Opera House on the ATG website. If you’re disabled or chronically ill, I would strongly encourage booking seats in the stalls. I usually go for these but tried the dress circle this time and found I did have difficulties, due to the lack of a lift and steep-ish stairs. We also noticed that the dress circle seating seemed quite deep and set-back in comparison to other venues: I have issues with my core at the moment, and had pain in my back and hips due to them overcompensating with the seat being set further backwards. However, I’ve never noticed this issues in the stalls in this venue before, so that combined with the level access from the side entrance means that you’re likely much better off going for those seats instead.

I’ve never used a wheelchair at the GOH before but if you have, I’d be interested to hear about your experiences. I’d love to hear what you make of Dirty Dancing too: if you’ve seen it, do let me know how you found it in the comments below. Do you have a favourite stage adaptation of a movie? 

Image credits: Alistair Muir, Dirty Dancing UK. Press tickets courtesy of York Grand Opera House. See what’s on and book tickets for upcoming shows at York Grand Opera House on the ATG website*, and let me know what you’re seeing next!

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